Business events are undergoing a major transformation process. While events have constantly evolved in line with societal developments, recent years have seen unprecedented change. Rapid technological progress, the increasingly noticeable effects of climate change, international conflicts and the consequences of the pandemic show that there can be no “back to square one.” This very fact, however, opens up enormous potential for all stakeholders in the business event industry.

Business Events as a Driving Force  Business events are not just the object of transformation, or even at its mercy, but also contribute significantly to solving the complex challenges of our time. With the wide range of content they deliver to audiences, they can become a driving force for addressing many problems in business, society and politics.

Together with their sector’s stakeholders, Germany can, in this context, play a key role due to the country‘s international standing as a business events destination. In purely quantitative terms, Germany has consistently ranked among the top international meeting destinations for many years. According to IPK International, Germany was again the most popular business travel destination for Europeans in 2021, with just under half of these 4.5 million trips being business events.

Globally, too, no country attracts more business-related trips than Germany. However, maintaining and increasing these valuable market shares for the future requires ongoing development in a fast-moving competitive environment with changing customer needs. Against this background, let’s focus on digital transformation as one of the megatrends shaping the change of business events and discuss the corresponding necessity of systematic data management.

AI in the business events sector  Chatbots supporting the booking process, public transport routes adapted to passenger preferences or self-check-in at events, the use of artificial intelligence (AI) around business events is not a question of if but of when and how.

A possible future scenario could be a Smart Meeting Assistant (SMA), just as the German Convention Bureau (GCB) and the Fraunhofer Institute for Industrial Engineering IAO identified in their study on the platform economy. This Smart Meeting Assistant, powered by sophisticated AI, could support event planners throughout the entire customer journey, from the initial idea and event development to evaluating attendee data post-event.

Whatever might ultimately happen with AI in business events, be it the implementation of SMAs or other tools that we can currently not even fathom, there is one fundamental truth. The use of AI is not and can never be an end in itself. Still, it always serves to fulfil customers’ needs as best as possible, to improve their user experiences and, therefore, to align the marketing of products and services accordingly. The key to achieving this goal lies in digital data management.

Seamless business events instead of data patchwork  Trivial but true: AI applications need data. Lots of it. When it comes to digital data management and AI, it is, therefore, crucial to breaking down data and application silos to provide users, such as event planners or attendees, with the desired correct information quickly and in a structured, up-to-date and personalised way. Connected data plays a vital role in this context.

A simple example shows why: planning to attend an event usually consists of a large number of individual steps, including booking train/plane tickets and accommodation as well as checking the weather, possibly researching taxi services, the locations of rental bikes or e-scooters, local restaurants, the event programme, safety and hygiene precautions and so on. Currently, this requires many applications, which present users with a patchwork scenario instead of a “seamless business events” experience, as each application manages its data.

Sophisticated data infrastructure  A high-quality data infrastructure, including open data, can address this issue. For the products and services of German business event providers to be found and processed in the future at as many digital touch points as possible, as well as across different output channels, they must be machine-readable and meet specific requirements. For example, they must be available in a uniform manner.

It provides the basis for efficiently using the possibilities of digital technologies, such as AI, to market products and services. The relationships between different data can be displayed and delivered via semantic queries by linking the data in a knowledge graph.

Open data for Germany’s meetings market  The German National Tourist Board is currently implementing its Open Data in Tourism project with regional tourist boards and the Magic Cities tourism initiative. Led by the GCB German Convention Bureau, the country’s business events industry will link up with this project to map its offers as comprehensively as possible in open data and bundle them in a knowledge graph.

It will make offers more accessible and interlinked for complex queries. Open data is key for achieving greater visibility and reach for Germany as a meeting destination to secure valuable market shares in international competition. Also, it saves time for service providers to manage their data and keep it up-to-date. Open data is a basis for innovative applications and services that can generate significant added value for event planners.

Human input indispensable  The above does not mean open data and AI will make human interaction obsolete. In fact, the opposite is true: “Digitalisation is ultimately all about people. AI is an opportunity to reach people even more quickly, to delve deeper into the reasons that drive their wishes and requirements. Furthermore, to use mass-customised services to achieve a new level of customer satisfaction”, says Petra Hedorfer, Chairwoman of the Board of the German National Tourist Board, in her introduction to a GNTB magazine on AI.

Platform economy applications, highly developed AI or open data projects require that employees have comprehensive digital skills. However, at the same time, they enable saving time and energy and using resources more effectively. Digitalisation and automation do not mean that the people business of events becomes an IT business. Technology supports people in focusing on what matters and fulfilling those tasks that no AI system will be able to take over in the foreseeable future, for example, providing personalised advice, taking care of guests or initiating creative processes for engaging events in authentic surroundings.

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